For Part Two of the Season Recap, click here
Heading into Week 6, the Bengals were officially cruising. They'd won four in a row, three of those over teams widely considered the favorite, and had done so in bruising fashion. They were well on their high-horse and were begging to be knocked down a few pegs. The Houston Texans---a team many still thought of as random and nameless---unassumingly rode into to town to do just that.
The game started out strangely with the Bengals stalling on their first two drives on holding penalties, but still kept things scoreless with a blocked field goal in the early goings. After a beautiful screen pass to Steve Slaton aided by some terrific open-field blocks, the Texans took a 14-7 lead only to watch Cincinnati score 10 points in the final two minutes of the half.
(For the record, Shayne Graham nailed a deep field goal as time expired, made possible by a Chris Crocker interception; both players have plummeted in popularity amongst Bengal fans since then.)
The Texans took over after halftime and Steve Slaton promptly fumbled the ball away but his knee was down before the ball came loose; the ruling was overturned. For whatever reason, that would be the moment when the Bengals lost that week.
Houston marched down the field and recaptured the lead when Crocker blew his coverage and allowed an easy touchdown. Then Daniel Coates astoundingly made a nice catch, but immediately reverted to character the next second when he fumbled on the ensuing tackle. Houston tight end Owen Daniels made a terrific one-handed catch in the end-zone on his way to likely his best game of the season. Dennis Roland gave up a third-down sack on the next Bengal possession, J.T. Foschi later fumbled when the Bengals were running out of chances, and so on.
The trap was sprung.
The Bengals were soundly beaten 28-17 on their home turf that day. They were outplayed and outcoached, as Houston dialed up play-actions and screens at the right times and predicated on the Bengals tendencies to overpursue when flowing to the ball-carrier. They were the first team of the 2009 season to effectively use Cincinnati's dominant run defense against itself; you could see Zimmer on the sideline waving his playbook around and yelling at his players on the field.
It was also the game that showed just how bad the tight-end position had become. Two costly second-half fumbles eliminated the chance for a comeback, and players that lose games are difficult for anyone to support. The groans of fans to see the unproven draft-pick Chase Coffman at tight end grew louder after the loss and many felt that it was just stubbornness from Marvin Lewis and his staff that was keeping the youngster off the field. The team later disclosed the Coffman had bone spurs in his ankle and required surgery to remove them; an operation that ended his season without playing a single regular-season snap.
The loss also reopened the skepticism many harbored about the Bengals' legitimacy as a contender. While 4-2 was a decent start to the season, it certainly didn't prove much about the long-haul and about the sustainability of this Marvin Lewis team. If anything, it proved that they weren't likely to match the misery of a year before which was in and of itself was a surprise to many of these same skeptics. Nonetheless, Cincinnati found itself in first place with three consecutive weeks at home coming up. The loss was a setback but not a deal-breaker; the men in stripes had yet to peak.
For every Bengal fan, whether in the stands or on the couch, the following Sunday was perfect.
Players often talk to the media about achieving the "complete game"; a nearly mythical happenstance where all 45 men, almost by chance, focus their collective talents to produce one unbeatable performance. This kind of harmony hadn't manifested with the Bengals since Carson was still young and exciting. It had been so long, that rarely did anyone realistically consider it a possibility anymore.
Then it happened.
The Chicago Bears were battered from the get-go, unable to stop Cincinnati from scoring touchdowns on their first four drives. The Bengal defense proved to be equally unkind, and the Bears limped into the locker room at halftime down 31-3.
There wasn't much else to write about that day. Chicago played a zone defense that Carson had no problems picking apart. The Bengals pass rush was good enough to rattle an already turnover-prone Jay Cutler. They day was over early; the home team had already won. Go home happy; beers are on that guy over there.
And they did. Waves of stunned euphoria extended outward from the epicenter of Paul Brown Stadium throughout Greater Cincinnati and beyond. A crushing, a bonified smack-down, a complete game had once more been achieved. Even the stone-cold curmudgeons of the world had to now allow the slightest possibility that the Bengals could perhaps make an impact in '09 after all. For the next 48 hours, we were a very proud city.
Yet in all the revelry, in all the good-tidings, a negative side-effect was brewing from such a thorough drubbing. While the win boosted the confidence and enthusiasm of the Bengal fan-base, it also supplied the example of perfection the team was apparently capable of executing. "Why can't they do that every game?" so many wondered, and when, invariably, the team played poorly again, frustrations began to boil over once more.
Mojokong---at our best.